Casting doubt, Electric fences, and more. In this episode, Andy, Robin and Adam discuss what CPD is like from a trainers' perspective. What mindset does a trainer need to foster? What are some techniques they use? Plus, Adam speaks about how creating an environment of self questioning and self stretching is so important in a class.
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Hi, I'm Andy Psarianos.
Hi, I'm Robin Potter.
Hi, I'm Adam Gifford.
This is the School of School podcast.
Welcome to the School of School podcast.
Are you a maths teacher looking for CPD to strengthen your skills? Maths — No Problem! has a variety of courses to suit your needs. From textbook implementation to the essentials of teaching maths mastery. Visit mathsnoproblem.com today to learn more.
Welcome back everyone to another episode of the School of School podcast, and we've got our two regulars here. Robin Potter.
And Adam Gifford.
And today we're going to talk about CPD or professional development or teacher training, whatever you want to call it. What does it look like from the trainer side? So Adam, you spend a lot of your time training teachers. What does it look like from your side? What are some of the things that you have to contend with as a teacher trainer?
The first thing is, I think you have to go into it with an attitude that it's a privilege, right? Because teachers don't get much time out of school to just stop and think about one thing. And if you get a chance to stop and think about maths, that's a rarity, that's a rarity that you get given that time and that your school wants to invest in you and they think enough of you to say, yeah, you are worth that time. I wish... There are far more people worth that time than actually go to training, but that's another story. I think the first thing that's really, really important to establish with training is to make it a place where you can be completely honest and you can feel safe. I think that's one of the biggest things because we can all come up with a programme and say, just learn this, this, this, this, this, this and this, and it'd just be one direction or here's everything.
Well, I could just print you off a booklet and just give it to you. So there you go. Then even don't need me, just read it and you've all good. But I think what the training allows is to establish a dynamic and an environment that makes people feel safe enough to be able to say, "I don't know this, and I don't care whether anyone thinks that I should or shouldn't know it. The fact of the matter is I don't and I need to." So I think that that's the first step. And I mean, you guys have done training. I know you've worked with lots of people, so I don't know if you agree with that. But to me, that kind of highlights A, these are the first steps of it. It's a privilege, and it's really important that that's precious time. And B, that we can create an environment that is conducive to really good learning, which is honest. I think that that's at least the first couple of steps.
And I think one of the dangers doing professional development is, or one of the anxieties I remember the first couple of times that I did this and I felt really nervous because I felt, oh no, I'm going to be found out. Someone's going to discover Andy's not as clever as he pretends to be, right?
Andy, we pulled out Andy's report cards from elementary school.
Well, hey, look, if you saw my report cards, you would be saying, why are we even listening to this guy? So it's recognising that your role as a provider of CPD is not to be the cleverest person in the room, but it's to make everybody as clever as they can be. And often if you get down to it, the Socratic method is really the best method for CPD. And that is to say that you're just really good at asking questions. Your ability to ask questions is really how you should be doing... I mean, arguably it should be most of the time how you're teaching, but especially when you're teaching in a professional development environment, because the reality is the combined experience in the room is likely to be much greater than your own experience.
So there's better ideas and better understanding in that room than there is coming on in your brain even about what you think you're a specialist on. And that's where you need to just know what the right questions are to ask. So Adam, maybe, I don't know. First of all, I don't know if you agree with what I'm saying, but if you do agree with what I'm saying, what are some of the typical questions you might ask when you're performing a CPD session?
So I do tend to go back to... What I do in a CPD session it's very similar to what I do in a classroom. And even though...
Well, it is a classroom.
...you think it's different, but... Absolutely, sorry, with children. So it's exactly the same. So I think that one of the things that I keep coming back to is just casting enough doubt. Are you sure about that? Maybe you just want to check with your next door neighbour just for a second.
Yeah. And it's important.
That sort of thing. Yeah. Sorry.
I can't stop myself. I have to say this. It's so important to do it, especially when they are really confident about what they're saying.
Absolutely. Because mathematics is about proof. So mathematicians are trying to find proof. Where's the proof in this? It's easy to say things and we can do all this, but can you prove it? Can you prove it in more than one way? Those sorts of things. So I think that that first thing is by asking that question, you are again creating an environment where I'm not going to stick my head up anymore and shout out the answer until I've got that proof. So that sometimes there's a shift, right? Because especially with adults, it's kind of like, can I just get the correct answer? That's the first thing that goes through our head. Whenever there's a question on the board, "I know the answer" and then I'll breathe the sigh of relief. And adults have got this wonderful habit of just popping up like meerkats, "I'm done" with a big grin on their face.
And it just begs for anyone to come across and say, "Oh, are you sure? You sure about that?" Yeah. And just enough because what we're actually trying to do is not make them check what they've done, but to get them into the habit of, am I sure, can I prove it? Have I done this in an efficient way? Can I do? And by asking those simple questions, you're kind of changing that behaviour and modifying a behaviour or eliciting a response or eliciting a behaviour. So I think it's kind of like you're setting your expectation, but you're not doing it by saying, "Right, guys, okay, PowerPoint slide number one. These are my expectations. Numbers one to five." Because people are going to glaze over. But if you feel it, 'cause that split second feeling between I've popped up, I'm confident. Am I sure? Yeah, I'm sure. Until you ask that question. And now I'm really not. I just think I'm just going to stick my head back and have a wee talk to my next door neighbour.
So I think that whatever we use when we're doing the training is... It is hard because we're trying to ask the right question at the right time. Sometimes it's specific to a certain question, does that always work with the numbers that you've used? Or something like that. But really I think what we're trying to get to the heart of is what are the behaviours that we want to become habitual so I don't need to ask the questions anymore? How can I get you to a point where you are doing that hard work for yourself? And all I'm doing is monitoring, trying to jump in, "Oh, it's probably getting a bit much, actually, you're just about to turn off there. I think maybe I just need to go over and just do something. I'm not quite sure yet. But it's something." So I think that's the key is it's, it'd be easy to think this is just about, you just need to know the answer to this particular question. And that's the crux of it, but actually it's not. It's something else.
Yeah. So that's really fascinating. And I think, so do you believe that the metacognitive script in that person's mind, be it, so if we're doing talking about professional development, the teacher or the pupil, student, child, whatever, in a school of young children, that metacognitive script, is that something... Is that a critical... Is that really the main thing that you should be trying to develop as that soft discipline?
It is utterly critical. Because let's be honest, I've been teach for a long time and I've tried really hard to be a good teacher. I will tell you now, it is impossible for me to assess 30 children in a classroom at any given time. So immediately people are going to slip through the gap. So how can I facilitate learning if I already know? It's like treating patients in a doctor surgery and there's 29 people in the waiting room, I can only treat one person at a time. But what I want to happen in the classroom is I want to establish these habits that means the stopping point in the learning is pushed out as far as possible. So the opportunity to learn broadens. So if it's just simply I'm stuck, and when I'm stuck, all I have to do is wait for the teacher.
If that's it, then those children, and I've seen this and I probably did it when I first started teaching, to be honest, hands up in the class, you look around, there's 16 children with their hands up. Well, what happens there? So I think that coming back to your point, that metacognition, that knowing what to do when I don't know what to do, that understanding how I learned, those things, I think it's essential. It's essential. It's essential in life. Otherwise, we're always sitting at the bus stop waiting for the bus to come and never thinking, maybe this bus doesn't come. I might need to find out about that. We're still sitting on the bus stop.
That's right. So if you're in a professional development situation and you say, "Okay, here's a problem" and somebody immediately says "Oh yeah, the answer is seven." Normally what would happen is everybody will put their pencils down and say, "Okay, well we got to the answer. So now the problem is finished and there's no point in me doing any more work because now we know what the answer is." But actually if that person says it's seven, and then you look at them, you say, "You sure about that?" Everyone's going to keep working, right? Because they're like, "Well, clearly it's not certain that it's seven, so maybe I'll be the first one to..." And it is just a different mindset. And then if that child is confident that it's seven, if you want to expand them, you can say, "Okay, well that's great, but is there another way that you can show me that it's seven?" Right? "You did it this way, but can you do it this other way?" Or "Can you explain it?" Or "Can you draw me a diagram?" Or whatever it is.
And I think that that's where, again, I think the other part of the training that I think is really important for me is I try to put it back to processes or systems that we can use so we are efficient with our planning. So it's not just, oh, that's a trick question. It's all right for you with all your experience and whatever else. I think it's trying to find those patterns, which again, it's one of the core competence, generalisation or looking for patterns. We try to do the same thing, or I do with the training is what do we keep coming back to? What was my preparation?
So when that person says, "Oh, it's seven," and you go, "Well, what type of question was it, Andy?" And you say, "Oh, it's an addition one." "Well, I've got to mate that solves it using subtraction. I'll leave that with you. I'll let you think about it. The rest of us are just going to carry on this way." "What? Hold on. Stop." "I'll let you worry about that. Yeah. Is it possible? What about the other operations? Division, multiplication? Would that work on there? Prove that it can't."
But that's where I guess the process in my preparation would come into ask the questions that put it back on them in a way that's not just a binary yes/no.
And I think that again, it comes back to what do I need to do in order to, I don't know, teach this lesson? What are the steps I need to go through? What do I need to do in this position? And try to simplify it down to those same steps, but they're not immediately obvious.
And so on that note, when I'm thinking about it from the trainer's perspective, if Andy and Adam and Vanhar are all doing the same training, it's the same material and same course, but you're all unique individuals and you all have your own style as to how to present that material. I mean, the one thing is if I'm in that classroom, I'm thinking it needs to be engaging. But what does engaging mean? It can be very different depending on the trainer. And I think you could apply that into the classroom as well, that teachers all have their own unique styles of giving that information to their students. But there needs to be an engagement. And so whether that could be having props or being, I don't know, being funny or presenting it in a unique way. But go ahead, Andy.
So Robin, let me walk you through my process.
Okay. And I don't know, Adam, I'm sure you have something similar that you think about. And these are just aims. They're not calculated, written out steps that I'm going to perform. So when I go into doing a lesson with a bunch of teachers, what I will have in mind is what do I want them to learn? So it's just lesson planning. What do I want them to learn? But that in itself can be a trap too. So I also have to tell myself that I'm going to allow them to learn other things because sometimes they'll go in a different direction and that's got to be okay. You got to be okay with that. So you want them to learn something and hopefully they will learn it. And your ability to teach, for them to learn something is hopefully the examples that you use will lead to the learning that you're hoping, but allow them to learn something else.
And by that what I mean is that you might want them to learn how to, I don't know, divide fractions by whole number in this visual way. That might be your learning objective, but actually what they might learn is that it's really important to communicate with your neighbours. And that's okay. If that's all they get out of it, that's pretty good. So you got to have that open mind. And then you got to really think about what are the open door questions I can ask here? Questions where they can just riff and go in whatever direction they want to. What are the closed door questions that I can ask where... So a closed door question would be like, oh, Bill might say, "Oh yeah, that's just like that example that we did last week about the two frogs and the chicken." And then you go, "That's fascinating. Can you tell me more?" Right. So that's a closed door question.
Let them... So know what those closed door questions are that you can use. Know what the open door questions are. Like "How did this make you feel?" is an open door question. And just be a master at asking questions that lead into, and even yes/no questions. "Are you sure?" You're either sure or you're not right? "No, I'm not sure." Just leave it there. Then they're going to go scratch their head and go and figure it out. So what are those... There's only three types of questions. Open door, closed door, and yes/no questions. Just get good at asking those questions and forget about being the smartest person in the room because if they're right or they're wrong, you can still ask them if they're sure. And if you only ask them "Are you sure?" when they're wrong, there's no point in that.
And that's why I said earlier, you have to ask the question "Are you sure?" when they're right almost always. Because that's the metacognitive script. If you ask them that question often enough they will just start asking themselves that question. Am I sure before they put their hand up or hang up their card or cross their arms, the big grin on their face, they can say, "Oh, am I sure?" So that's the metacognitive script that as a professional development lead or a teacher, that's what you should be aiming to do is to make them self-sufficient and not reliant on there being an expert at the front of the room. That's how I approach it.
Yeah, no, I agree with everything Andy said. I think the other thing to add to that is we've got to remember that what we talk about, we talk about core competencies, we talk about sort of lesson structure. Remember that this is all conducive to good learning. So we know this. That's why we're doing it. That's why we say the things that we do. So if we know that, then we can put people that come to training in a position to learn. And by rights, if we follow those same principles and theories, people learn. There's a feeling that people get, which is usually largely positive when people learn. So I think that's the thing. I think that it's almost like there's no trickery to it. It's kind of like we've taken all of these components. How do people learn? Can we create the environment and the opportunity for them to experience those things?
We're able to label them, but in the first instance, they're experiential. The people feel them first and do all of that. It kind of like, "Oh, how did it feel when you got it?" "It was amazing. It was great. I've never known how to do that, and now I get it, cool. Can't wait to teach the kids. Oh, can't wait to do this." That's not chance. And that's the reason why we do the training. So just because this is already been found out, it's not secret. So we all start out, I think with those... We're underpinned by that. So we've already got kind of research on our side, so that's a massive headstart. So yeah, I just think that going back to those things, and like Andy saying, knowing that we can be sophisticated enough with the type of questions that we ask, and again, we're asking them to elicit some sort of response. A response that we've kind of, I don't know, we've planned falls into one of these camps.
We've not planned the response, so there's enough of an experience to then turn around and go, "All right, well, tell me how that felt." Da da da da. "Well, do you know what? You've just talked about is metacognition, what you've just talked about is generalisation. What you've just talked about is number sense. This is what you've done. You've just..." "Oh, is that what it was?" "Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. Yeah, that's it." "Oh, okay. Oh, that's pretty cool. Yeah, I like that."
It's going back to all the learning theories, right? It's like Zoltan Dienes. Let them play around with it and then structure it. Don't tell them you must do it this way, metacognition and da da da da da. No, no. Let them experience it in a non-jargonistic sort of unstructured way. And then when you go back and reflect on it, that's when you say, okay, well that's like what's exactly what Adam said. "Well, you used number sense. That's number sense. You knew that it made sense to split 51 into 30 and 21 to do what you were trying to do. And that's number sense." And they're like, "Oh yeah, okay. Wow." Yeah, exactly.
It's like learning those core competencies without realising you learned them.
And just learning. Learning is cool. Learning is really cool. And I think it makes most of us feel pretty good. Yeah, there's some hard lessons that we learned that maybe there's another route to it. I had a golden retriever once that sniffed an electric fence three times before she realised it was an electric fence. She wasn't the sharpest knife in the drawer was this dear golden retriever. So that lesson's a hard one. But I think as a general rule, when you're in training, if you are learning, that's pretty powerful. Yeah. It's a really cool thing to be able to achieve.
And there's been no electrical fences that have been involved in any of the training that I've ever taken. Thank goodness.
Not yet. Anyway.
Learning is cool. Okay, thanks Adam. That's it. That's how we'll wrap that one up. Learning is cool.
Thank you for joining us on the School to School podcast.